I’ve always found those scenes in scary movies excruciating, when someone is alone in a house at night, often an absurdly cliché dark and stormy night. The person hears a noise of some kind, and they try at first to ignore it, perhaps by hiding their head under the covers, or covering their ears with a pillow. Because, of course they are in bed, in pajamas, and EVERYONE knows pajamas, even with a robe over them, makes ANYONE much more vulnerable to violent attack than average street clothes!
Though it would go against every single strand of your survival DNA if you, the viewer, were in their shoes, or in this case slippers, the person maddeningly gets out of bed walks slowly TOWARD the source of the noise, despite several repetitions of the mysterious noise, despite your shouts at the screen, even in a crowded movie house, imploring this insanely stupid person to just stay put. Because, the insanely stupid person in these films ALWAYS snuffs it.
But no, the person instead ignores your thoughtful, compassionate, Good Samaritan warnings while occasional flashes of lightning illuminate the room just enough to make everything deeply creepy. The prey, along the way, picks up a blunt instrument of some kind, sometimes a heavy candlestick, or more often a piece of sporting equipment, like a baseball bat, a golfing iron, or for comic effect a tennis racket…
Well, you know how it ends.
One night, I got up to pee at around 3:00am, walked into the upstairs bathroom, and the evening was so unusually warm that I forgot for a moment that the exterior wall and most of the ceiling and roof weren’t there, as construction on a new dormer was due to begin later that day. As soon as I got the flow going, if you know what I mean, my eyes panned upward, first to see a wall of trees, mixed fir, cedar, alder, and cottonwood, and then upward further still, to a cloudless sky and a dense starfield, the Milky Way.
For a moment, it was bliss. The sounds of crickets, and frogs croaking from a swampy area in the woods about 50 yards from the house, the periodic call of an owl: hoo, hoo, hoo-hoo. hoo, hoo, hoo-hoo. Perhaps my new friend, the neighbor I’d met just about a week before. It was peaceful, and I was deeply grateful that it wasn’t raining, thundering, and especially no lightning. I mean, what a way to go, right? Struck down while peeing standing up, outdoors, in your home?
Then I heard it, the creepy crept in, a noise from somewhere nearby…IN the house, nothing loud, a couple of thuds, some shuffling, like feet in socks walking around, and a barely audible and not at all horror-movie-magnitude creaky door, its hinges simply in need of some WD-40, a project I’d planned to take on the very next day in fact.
“Darlin’, sorry I woke you,” I half-spoke, half-whispered, thinking it was my wife.
No response except crickets, frogs, owl.
“Hon?” I called out, barely audible enough to be heard out in the bedroom where she slept.
Again, only crickets, frogs, owl, but another door creak.
Though I certainly wanted a baseball bat or a golf club, they were downstairs in the garage, on the other side of the house, impossibly buried in a box, along with all our other belongings, likewise buried in a sea of boxes, like Rosebud, and the Ark of the Covenant, and I’d need to navigate through rooms with furniture oddly stacked wherever there weren’t piles of lumber or tables covered with hand tools and power tools and nails of many sizes, and tubes of construction adhesive and caulk, blueprints and permits, and everything covered in a layer of sawdust.
And so, empty-handed, I proceeded, trying to convince myself that it was merely some critter or another. Yeah, that’s it! A harmless squirrel, or at worst a raccoon, that had found its way in through the bathroom I was now exiting, cautiously. But then I saw a light go on in one of the rooms down the hall, one of two bedrooms upstairs not currently occupied by my sleeping wife. Then, a light in the other presumed unoccupied room, which I didn’t recall leaving on when we went to bed, suddenly went dark.
Can a raccoon or squirrel do that?! I thought. No, they fucking cannot! I replied, in thought, to myself.
I entered the first of the two bedrooms, just barely, just one small step inside, the one in which the light had turned on, of course. The small, 10’x 12’ room was mostly a rectangle: as you walk in there’s a contiguous wall on the left with one window in it, straight ahead another wall with two smaller windows in it, but on the right, just as you enter, there’s blank wall with a light switch on it, which controls the ceiling mounted fixture that cast a dull yellow light, then a door to a small closet, followed by a smaller section of wall that comes to a corner, the corner juts right the depth of the closet, intersects with the fourth wall, which continues, without any windows, until it meets the wall with two windows.
The door to the closet was ajar, the inside of the closet was unlit and dark, and so the first thing I did as I took one more step deeper into the room, was to flick the light switch for the closet on the wall next to the slightly open door. Half expecting whatever had been making the noises I’d heard to be startled by the light coming on, and therefore scurry into a corner, or, who knows, through my legs and out of the room, I was half relieved, half frustrated that nothing moved, not a thing, nothing of the sort, the closet was completely empty, no answer to the mystery.
As I departed the closet, into the dimly lit room, I did so much more relaxed than I had been, not thinking of scary movies at all for the moment, with a little cockiness in fact, assuming that the worst, in this room anyway, the dark closet, had passed. I continued further into the room deep enough just to check out the little nook where the wall of the closet came to its 90° intersection, pivoted 45° to inspect…
Chills shuddered through my body. Before me stood a person, a female person in a tattered and soiled nightgown, with her back facing me, an old female person with long, wavy, seemingly greasy and unkempt grey hair, shuddering as much as I was by then.
“Who are you?” I barely managed to utter, in a quiet, fluttering voice, not entirely sure that I wanted this woman to answer.
Her head began to turn slowly, but at that point where normally the body would follow, either twisting to allow the head to complete its 180° rotation, or pivoting with the feet to turn and face me, the head alone continued to turn clockwise in my direction, finishing the turn with a shocking suddenness combined with the sight of the seeming impossible…
Where the woman’s face should have been there was, instead, the face of an owl.
Hoo! Hoo! Hoo-hoo!
I know, you expect me to say that I awoke in a pool of sweat, and while I did feel sweaty, there was no literal pool. But, I had sprung straight up into a sitting position and screamed.
“What?! What is it?!” was the response from the other side of the bed.